On Life Without Grades
I am often asked some form of the following: “I know Yale doesn’t have grades. But do you really not have grades? And doesn’t that just mean that you are more competitive in other aspects?” The answers to those questions are yes, we do have grades, and yes, there is competition. But both are of a completely different sort than what you will find at any other law school. Let me explain.
First, our grading system is officially demarcated into Honors, Pass, Low Pass, and Fail, although I personally have never heard of anyone failing. But for all intents and purposes, grades are Honors or Pass, with the proportion of each doled out in any given class left almost to the complete discretion of the professor. The question I am usually asked next is how important are Honors? And to that I answer, not very. Undoubtedly, people with all Honors do very well in the job-search process, but so do people with all Passes. The differences exist at the margins. If you want a job with a litigation boutique that accepts only a dozen or so summer associates per year, then having a few Honors will surely help you to secure that job.
Likewise, if you want a clerkship with a judge who sends clerks to the Supreme Court every year, the more Honors you have, the better. But there are plenty of incredibly interesting, prestigious jobs that do not require all, or even a majority of Honors. Experience, demonstrated interest, recommendations, and academic writing are usually valued more than the number of Honors on your transcript. This leads me to my second point.
Our grading system and curriculum allow a level of flexibility and freedom that is unparalleled. Students can tailor their educations however they see fit. They can do clinics, research with professors, write papers, participate in journals and other activities, and perform community service. Yale allows you to make your education truly yours without worrying about grade competition. And it is the myriad of ways that students do this that allows them to be unique, to market themselves to prospective employers, and to secure the variety of jobs that lead to the many incredibly interesting careers upon which YLS graduates embark. We competed not with each other, but with ourselves. We set our own goals, and we worked hard to achieve them.
The YLS community is composed of some of the best and most renowned faculty and administrators in the legal profession. They have a vested interest in helping the students here succeed. But equally important are the students themselves. People do not get into Yale solely because of their GPA and LSAT combination. People get into Yale because of who they are and what they have done. The students bring such diverse backgrounds to the Law School that one learns from them and benefits from their existence just as much as one does from the faculty. And because of our size, we do all know each other and converse with each other on a daily basis. Students draw from this combined energy, resources, and talent to do things many would not think possible prior to coming to Yale. It really is an unparalleled experience that many fail to appreciate until they come. For that reason, I would encourage any prospective student to visit the school, talk to the people, and sit in on classes. Do so with a critical eye, for Yale is not for everyone. But I do think Yale is for most people who are admitted, and most people admitted reach that conclusion themselves. Come see for yourself why grades really are such a small part of who we are and what we are able to accomplish.